Although computer and console role-playing games share a lot of common ground with their tabletop predecessors, over time the two media have diverged significantly.
Western role-playing games arguably remain the truest to tabletop role-playing, which remains very freeform, flexible and sometimes even completely free of violent conflict. Titles such as Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls series allow the experience of living in a virtual world, exploring as you see fit and seeing what happens as you interact with it in various ways.
Japanese (and Japanese-inspired) role-playing games, meanwhile, are typically (though not exclusively) handled almost as “interactive storybooks” punctuated by regular, predictable and abstract battle sequences. This isn’t a criticism, mind; as any JRPG fan will tell you, this approach allows the games to focus on strong storytelling and characterisation at the expense of allowing you to steal every spoon in someone’s house.
This article was originally published on Games Are Evil in 2012 as part of the site’s regular Swords and Zippers column on JRPGs. It has been republished here due to Games Are Evil no longer existing in its original form.
Continue reading From the Archives: The Last Story and the Art of Encounter Design
The idea of a “construction set” for a video game being sold as a standalone product is something we haven’t seen a lot of in recent years, but it used to be a common sight in the earlier days of gaming.
Back in the ’80s and early ’90s, titles such as EA’s Racing Destruction Set, Interplay’s The Bard’s Tale Construction Set and SSI’s Unlimited Adventures allowed players to try their hand at game design without needing to know any of that pesky programming, albeit within the constraints of an existing game’s framework in most cases.
The concept of “programming-free game creation” was later expanded on by companies such as Clickteam (Klik and Play, Games Factory, Multimedia Fusion, the latter of which is still used by many indie developers today), YoYo Games (GameMaker) and ASCII/Enterbrain (RPG Maker) — these packages were more “general purpose” and could be used for a wider variety of projects, but became quite a bit more complex as a result.
Given Nintendo’s love of making “toy-like” games, it was entirely appropriate that it would be the one to mark a triumphant and high-profile return to the standalone, more constrained and accessible “construction set”. Super Mario Maker was the result, and it’s one of the Wii U’s most interesting titles.
Continue reading Wii U Essentials: Super Mario Maker
While Nintendo platforms were very much the spiritual home of JRPGs in the 8- and 16-bit eras, in more recent times most of those games have jumped ship to Sony platforms.
This isn’t to say there’s a complete lack of JRPG goodness on Nintendo platforms, however; the 3DS has some solid titles, the original Wii had its three famous “Operation Rainfall” titles Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story and Pandora’s Tower — and the Wii U has Xenoblade Chronicles X.
Xenoblade Chronicles X is, it’s fair to say, a fairly different beast from its predecessor, and consequently it wasn’t to everyone’s taste. However, even if you didn’t enjoy it, it’s hard to deny that it’s a truly remarkable game, and a highly noteworthy entry in the Wii U’s library.
Continue reading Wii U Essentials: Xenoblade Chronicles X
Multiplayer online shooters are notorious for being incredibly popular, but not particularly welcoming to newcomers.
Doubtless most of you reading have experienced at least one occasion where, while attempting to learn a new game, you were berated for being a “noob”, or utterly dominated by an experienced player taking advantage of the “fresh meat” on the map. With determination, you can push beyond this, of course, but it’s not something that everybody finds particularly palatable or fun.
Which is why Splatoon is such a wonderful piece of game design from Nintendo. By shifting the focus away from attacking other players directly while simultaneously removing the most common ways for people to be jerks to one another — i.e. voice and text chat — it created one of the most accessible, enjoyable takes on the multiplayer shooter ever created, and a game that even people who typically dislike multiplayer shooters can enjoy.
Continue reading Wii U Essentials: Splatoon
In contrast to The Wind Waker, which shook things up considerably in terms of both aesthetic and game structure, you’d be forgiven for thinking Twilight Princess was “just another Zelda game”.
It marks a return to the semi-realistic visuals of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, and is set firmly on dry land in the familiar land of Hyrule — albeit another, differently laid-out Hyrule to its predecessors on the grounds that it’s yet another era in the extremely convoluted Zelda timelines.
But get into the game a bit and you’ll discover something a little different to what we typically expect from a Zelda game: childish optimism replaced with melancholy; the usual feeling of light inevitably triumphing over darkness replaced by questions over whether everything really will turn out all right this time; and an air of slight cynicism that largely emanates from Link’s perpetual companion Midna, one of the most memorable characters the series has ever seen.
Continue reading Wii U Essentials: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD
Nintendo’s Super Mario franchise isn’t really one series any more. It’s split off in a number of different directions, each catering to a slightly different group of fans.
The different subseries have enough in common that someone who just enjoys “Mario games” can get something out of all of them, but each type of modern Super Mario game is clearly designed with a particular type of player in mind. And it really benefits their overall game design.
One of the more recent additions to the formula is the Super Mario 3D series, kicked off with Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS and continued with Super Mario 3D World on the Wii U.
Continue reading Wii U Essentials: Super Mario 3D World
Pikmin is one of Nintendo’s series that often gets forgotten about, but it’s a real gem — and its Wii U installment is no exception.
Often (arguably) erroneously decribed as a “real time strategy” game, the games are actually more akin to puzzle adventures, in which you explore a world and figure out the best ways to proceed and defeat the enemies in front of you. In the grand tradition of games that feature sprawling, huge maps, too, there are plenty of shortcuts to unlock and lots of revisiting earlier areas with new abilities to find hidden secrets.
And the whole thing is tied together with a delightfully cute aesthetic that fits the tone of the experience perfectly.
Continue reading Wii U Essentials: Pikmin 3